When to let your dog off leash to run free through the woods or up the trail is an important decision, and one that requires both consideration and preparation. In truth, the question of when and where you can let your dog off leash has more to do with the bonding you have with your pet than which areas are ideal for free playing. Naturally, there are certain places where you should never or very rarely remove your dog’s leash (crowded areas, public parks, and sidewalks), and there are places where allowing her to run free is encouraged (enclosed dog parks, fenced pastures, backyards). But before you unhitch that clasp, be aware that some amount of preparation is always required.
The Purpose of Using a Leash Leashesserve two purposes – to constrain and control your dog, and to teach your dog to stay by your side. After enough time spent on a leash, your dog will likely prefer staying close to you even when she’s released. But for even very well-behaved dogs, allowing off-leash activities will pose several immediate risks. Factors you cannot control, such as a sudden sound or the surprising appearance of an animal or another dog, could easily trigger an instinctual reaction that could put your dog in danger.
Training is the Best Protection for Off-Leash Play The best way to keep your dog safe when she’s off leash is to provide her with daily training. Take a few minutes each day to teach your dog to sit, stay, and come without using a leash while you’re at home or in another safe location. If your dog consistently obeys you, you can minimize the risk of any danger she might encounter when off her leash by calling her to your side when something unexpected happens. It’s also important to ween your dog off treats during your training sessions if you plan to take her off her leash. In a new and novel environment, your dog is surrounded by novel sights, smells, and sounds, and she may be more interested in a nearby squirrel than the treat in your hand. Using voice commands or a clicker will be far more effective.
Letting Your Dog Off Leash If you feel your dog is ready to play off leash, if she responds well to you without treats or food items, start with safe areas that are not crowded with other people or dogs. Gradually, as she becomes accustomed to being off-leash, you can take her to more interesting places. It should also be noted that some dogs just won’t ever be ready to go off leash. The younger the dog, and the more energy she has, the less likely she is to respond to you when she’s free of her leash. If your dog doesn’t respond well in training, you might consider getting help by attending a local obedience school. Otherwise, she will probably be safest if you stick to dog parks and backyards.